Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-School Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.
I have weeks where I do a tremendous amount of cooking. I cook at home for my daughter, and then I head to the restaurant to do even more cooking. While I love everything from breakfast muffins to a good pot roast, most of the cooking I do is savory. The result? I want to eat cake!
I always joke that the grill guy is over in the restaurant’s pastry section nibbling on leftover cookies and the pastry chef is over at the grill nibbling on leftover meat. I think chefs often crave the opposite of whatever we have our hands in all day long.
But here’s the thing — this time of year, I always start to work on new ideas for Thanksgiving side dishes and appetizers, and it makes me crave pie. And then I start to realize that I want to save my “pie points” for the holiday season, so I immediately turn to my favorite food group — cake. My mother always loves to serve a cake in the midst of the Thanksgiving desserts. Sometimes she makes a wonderful Indian pudding or a batch of cookies to mix it up. But I have my favorite chocolate cake recipe, and it‘s so simple and goopy and American and wonderful!
Chocolate Cake with Marshmallow Frosting
5 tbsp. unsalted butter plus additional for greasing the inside of the cake pan
zest of 1 orange
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
¾ tsp. baking powder
2½ cups all-purpose flour
⅔ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup sour cream
¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. In a small pot, melt the butter. Stir in the orange zest. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, sift together the baking soda, salt, baking powder and flour.
4. In another bowl, whisk together the sugar, vanilla, sour cream and the egg. Whisk the flour mixture into the sour cream mixture in small batches. Use a large spoon to stir in the melted butter and then the chocolate.
5. Transfer the batter to an 8-inch round pan that’s liberally greased. Gently tap the sides so the batter is even. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 40–45 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool. Invert the cake from the pan onto a serving plate. Cool before frosting.
5 tbsp. water
¼ tsp. of tartar
1⅓ cups sugar
2 egg whites, room temperature
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1. Pour water into a roasting pan about 2 inches deep to create a makeshift double boiler. Put the pan on the stove and bring the water to a gentle simmer. Dip the instant read thermometer into the simmering water to clean any impurities off the end and to test the thermometer works. In a clean, stainless steel-mixing bowl, combine the water, cream of tartar, sugar, egg whites and corn syrup. Gently lower the bowl into the simmering water. Turn off the heat under the water. Use an electric hand held beater to whip the whites over the water. Do not leave the egg white mixture unattended or stop beating any time in this process.
2. After about 3 minutes, remove the bowl from the heat, put the beater down and quickly take the temperature of the egg whites. You want them to reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If not there yet, immediately put the bowl of whites back in the water and resume beating until it does, an additional 2–3 minutes.
3. Remove the bowl from the water and beat in the vanilla. Whip for an additional 2 minutes to allow the mixture to cool. Frost the cake by, as my father used to say, “glopping” the frosting all over the top and sides. Serve immediately.
This is like my “little black dress” of cake recipes. I just go to it and know that it will work out. But I have other favorites too. In the coming weeks, I am going to be sharing some cool make-ahead side dishes that will ease the pressure of Thanksgiving and the holidays in general. As much as there is that buildup of pressure to cook the big holiday dinner, I think practicing for it in the weeks leading up is the best part.